Icelanders have a very strong culture of music – as evidenced by the completely disproportionate amount of renowned musicians from here. So fittingly, there seems to be an unending amount of music festivals on the Icelandic calendar, from the established and epic Iceland Airwaves to the new and intimate Saga Fest – from the shortest days of the year at Dark Music Days, to the longest at Secret Solstice Festival.
Here are 10 major festivals to plan your holiday around.
1. Dark Music Days 29. Jan – 01. Feb
Not, as in “dark music”, but as in “music in the dark days” – It’s a music festival during the short days of January when the sun rises at 11 am and sets at 4 pm. The festival was established by the society of Icelandic Composers in 1980 and focuses on providing a safe place for progressive and experimental music.
2. Sónar Iceland 12. – 14 Feb.
Sónar Music Festival originated in Barcelona 1994 with a focus on the newest trends in electronic dance music and a playful avant-garde twist. Since 2002 Sónar has organized more than 50 Festivals in different parts of the world, including Iceland for the past 3 years.
Sónar in Iceland is an intimate affair, as the city is small, and the warm and modern concert venues contrast strongly with the cold, dark winter and eternal nature outside. Sónar Reykjavík takes place in 5 different venues with a combined capacity of 3500 people, so book your ticket now if you want to go.
3. I never went South (Aldrei fór ég Suður) 3. – 5. April
Aldrei fór ég Suður is probably the coolest thing in the world. It takes place in a tiny fishing village, Ísafjörður, in the West Fjords of Iceland. The festival is about the love of music, community and the Icelandic countryside, and is remarkable in that it is free of charge.
The title “I never went South” references a song by punk/folk/pop ledgend Bubbi, which talks about how everyone abandons their little fishing village for the big city in the south, but he never did. It is decidedly “anti”, anti-city, anti-establishment, and as such it takes pride in being small, intimate, cozy, and different – the ‘common man’s music festival!’
4. SAGA FEST 23. – 24. May
SAGA FEST is a new thing, its first annual event this May. It aims to be a very different kind of festival, with a focus on participation and sustainability, from bring-your-own-instrument events to plant-your-concert-ticket. But ultimately, its scope is beyond music and entertainment, it’s about connecting people with each other and with nature, and wishes for you to “come as you are, and leave as a changed person”.
5. Secret Solstice 19. – 21. June
Secret Solstice takes place on the longest days of the year during the summer solstice, when the sun barely sets for three days straight, so the obvious thing to do is party through the night. Or the ‘non-night’, depending on how you look at it. The festival has a focus on electronic dance music and it is set in the Laugardalur outdoor area in the heart of Reykjavík with venues ranging from a concert hall to a football field to a skating rink (but sorry, no ice there).
6. ATP – All Tomorrow’s Parties 2. – 4. July
ATP is an international series of music festivals focused on smaller and more intimate events. This is the third year it takes place in Keflavík, Iceland, the main venue being a big old airplane hangar on the old NATO base. The festival has an eclectic focus, and the 2015 edition will be headlined by Belle & Sebastian and Godspeed You! Black Emperor amongst many others.
7. Eistnaflug Metal Festival 8. – 11. July
July is a busy month in Neskaupsstaður, a tiny town on the east coast of Iceland, when the town’s meager population of 1400 inhabitants doubles overnight for the Eistnaflug Metal Festival. The festival is, as the name implies, a music festival focused on Metal, but encompassing everything from Punk to Indie rock to Hardcore to Black Metal – it’s an inclusive kind of atmosphere, or in the organisers’ words: “everything that’s good is welcome here”.